When Judge Peter Meldrim purchased the house from Charles Greene's son in 1892, he was already very well respected in Savannah. He had fought in the Civil War at age 16, then became a lawyer, a member of the House of Representatives and Senate and then a judge. As president of the American Bar Association in 1912-1913, he is credited with bringing the Georgia Industrial College, which had been founded in 1890 for African Americans, to Savannah. It is now Savannah State University.
The Meldrim's had four daughters....Caroline, Sophie, Jane and Frances. But it is Sophie that piques our interest. And our story begins in 1913 when Sophie goes to a resort in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina and meets Edward Harris "Ted' Coy who is also vacationing there. Sophie was attractive and vivacious, and Ted Coy was not only handsome but had also been Yale's All-American quarterback from 1907 to 1909 and the Yale football coach in 1910. He was recognized then as one of the greatest football players in the history of the game.
Moreover, he was on the list of the Most Admired Men in America, and if that wasn't enough, F. Scott Fitzgerald patterned one of his characters after Coy in his short story, "The Freshest Boy." It was deemed "a great love match." But Sophie and Ted surprised both their families by eloping to Asheville and marrying. Once married, they settled in New York City where Coy was associated with a financial firm and they became a very popular New York couple. But the marriage would last about nine years, and in 1925 Sophie traveled to France and finally divorced Ted.
Here the story takes a rather delicious twist. Shortly after her divorce, Sophie met Frank A. Muncey, a wealthy publisher. Muncie had a rather interesting personality quirk. If he met someone and liked them, he wrote them into his will usually for between $2,500 to $5,000. After meeting Sophie Coy, he wrote her into his will for $50,000. Although they decided to marry, they felt it necessary to wait a proper time after her divorce.
Alas! Before they wed, Frank Muncey died suddenly, without having had time to change his will. $50,000 went to Sophie and $50 million dollars went to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Left with the $50,000 and two children to support, Sophie realized she needed a career.
Enter Nona McAdoo. Her father had been Treasury Secretary for President Woodrow Wilson, and two years after Nona's mother died, he married the President's daughter, Eleanor. Nona was the widow of Ferdinand Nikolai Alexander von Mohrenschildt, who had been Secretary to the Russian Embassy, but had died leaving her penniless as a result of a stock market crash.
Sophie and Nona teemed up, renting a small space in Bonwit Teller's New York store, opening a boutique, which became so popular they quickly out-grew their space. They moved to Madison Avenue and opened Chez Ninon, which became a chic, exclusive fashion salon for East Coast society women. The two women traveled regularly to Paris to view the latest fashion creations of top French designers. After deciding which fashions would suit their own clientele, Sophie and Nona would obtain the designer's permission to adapt the design in their own New York salon.
One of their regular customers was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who even had her
own mannequin at Chez Ninon so that her outfits could be fitted perfectly. There was a certain Chez Ninon outfit that her husband particularly liked....a watermelon pink boucle suit and matching pillbox hat. The President said she looked "smashing" in it and asked her to wear it during their upcoming trip to Dallas.
Originally a Coco Chanel design, Sophie and Nona were responsible for re-creating
the iconic outfit that would be known world wide after November 22, 1963. The image of Jacqueline Kennedy standing on Air Force One in her blood-stained suit while Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President quickly spread here and abroad.
As for Chez Ninon, it continued for 30 years with Sophie and Nona selling it to one of the salon's models, never realizing that they had produced an outfit that would be called, "the most legendary outfit in history."
Sophie would marry Horatio Seymour Shonnard, a retired stock broker, and they would move to Harrietta Plantation on the South Santee River near Charleston and spend $500,000 restoring it.
Historical note: Jackie's pillbox hat and gloves were never found, and the watermelon pink suit was never cleaned of its bloodstains and is kept out of sight in an acid-free container at the National Archives in Maryland. In 2003, Caroline Kennedy signed a "deed of gift," with the provision that the suit not be put on display until 2103, 100 years after the assassination.
Read on, my friends....